Taking advantage of a fast Honda and a race-record number of cautions, Josef Newgarden put himself in position to score an upset victory in Sao Paulo this afternoon before dropping back to fifth place at the finish on worn tires.
“I thought we had a really strong race and a top-five is really good going into Indy,” he said. “Given where we started, that’s exactly what we wanted to do, score solid points and get some momentum going into the 500. I think we’ve absolutely done that.”
The Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing driver didn’t qualify on Saturday because of an engine change and had to start 25th at the rear of the field. But Newgarden and SFHR played the strategy game perfectly, and the young American was able to climb to second on the final restart of the day at Lap 60. That set up a fight for the lead between himself and Takuma Sato, who gave no quarter to Newgarden whenever he attempted to take the lead from him.
Newgarden and Sato’s battle enabled eventual race winner James Hinchcliffe to reel them in. With three laps remaining, the Canadian took back second from Newgarden, who still mustered an ultimately vain three-wide attempt in Turn 11 with Hinchcliffe and Sato before his fading Firestones caught up with him.
But while Marco Andretti and Oriol Servia managed to pass him on the final lap, Newgarden’s fifth is the best result of his young IndyCar career. Still, as he now prepares for the Indianapolis 500, he felt like he could’ve done even better on Sunday.
“It was a little bit of a disappointment,” he said. “I think we had a better car than fifth. You have to take what you can sometimes. We’re really pleased at all of the hard work that gets put in from everyone here. It’s good to get representative results. We’ll try to take that momentum and do well at the ‘500’.”
The 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series opener is still more than six weeks away (March 11, St. Petersburg, Florida).
But several rules and protocol changes that will impact much of the 17-race season were announced today by INDYCAR officials.
First is related to Indianapolis 500 qualifying on May 19-20, one week prior to the 102nd running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing:
* Driver and entrant points will be awarded to the top nine qualifiers for the race. The pole winner earns nine points and the second-fastest qualifier eight points, with awarded points decreasing by one point for each position down to one point earned by the ninth-fastest qualifier.
* Race points for the Indianapolis 500 and the 2018 season-ending Grand Prix of Sonoma on Sept. 16, will still pay double the normal points for driver and entrant.
There are several other changes on tap for the season, as well.
Here’s a quick rundown of those changes (information courtesy of INDYCAR):
- The qualifying order for all oval track events except the Indianapolis 500 will be determined by entrant points entering the event. The qualifying order will run in reverse order of entrant points, with the highest in entrant points qualifying last. A car without entrant points will be placed at the front of the qualifying line. If more than one car has no entrant points entering an event, a blind draw among those cars will determine their qualifying order at the front of the line. The qualifying order for the Indianapolis 500 will still be determined by a blind draw.
- Times have been set for the series-wide open test at ISM Raceway (formerly Phoenix Raceway), scheduled for Feb. 9-10. The track will be open to all cars from 3-6 p.m. and 8-11 p.m. ET both days. INDYCAR has also added four hours of track time on Feb. 8 (3-7 p.m. ET) for rookie drivers to complete their oval test assessments.
- The series-wide open test at Portland International Raceway will be held Aug. 30, a day prior to the beginning of the Grand Prix of Portland race weekend. Indy car racing returns to the Pacific Northwest for the first time in 11 years in 2018.
- A schedule change for the month of May will see the INDYCAR garages closed on May 13 – the day after the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course – to allow teams time off for Mother’s Day. The track will not be open to the public on this day. The garages will be open on May 14, but there will be no on-track activity.
- Practice for the 2018 Indianapolis 500 begins Tuesday, May 15 on the IMS oval, with the first two hours open for rookie orientation and veteran refreshers, then to all cars. Practice continues May 16-18, ahead of qualifications weekend May 19-20.
- INDYCAR is granting teams that did not participate in fall manufacturer testing with the universal aero kit an additional half day of private testing. The testing is limited to one car per team and must take place in conjunction with the team’s first on-track test of 2018. Each team is permitted five hours of track time and two sets of Firestone tires.
- Working with Firestone, INDYCAR has increased the tire allotment at five events. The race weekends at ISM Raceway (Phoenix), the Raceway at Belle Isle Park in Detroit, Texas Motor Speedway, the streets of Toronto and Iowa Speedway will see teams receive an additional set of tires. In a related change, drivers outside the top 10 in the point standings will no longer have an extra set of tires available to them for the opening practice session of a race weekend.
- The minimum car weight for 2018 has been increased by 10 pounds – to 1,620 pounds for road and street courses and short ovals, 1,590 pounds for superspeedways (both do not include fuel, drink bottle and its contents, driver and driver equivalency weight) – to accommodate for new parts and additional on-car cameras related to the universal aero kit all competitors will run in 2018.